We’ve all been there. You’re standing outside in the San Diego heat, you just finished your last drop of water, your lips are chapped, you’re burning in the sun, your phone is dying, or WHATEVER, and you think to yourself, “Man! If only I’d brought my ________.” It’s not a pleasant feeling. As much as we all love the excitement of a nerd convention, no one likes to be in the thick of the crowd without basic necessities. This year, I’m going to apply my experience to help myself and you avoid that situation.
Enter the daypack. Several years ago, Alana Jordan provided us with her list of necessities to carry around for the day. As an experienced cosplayer and attendee, she had some great advice, and I definitely recommend going back and checking that out before heading into downtown San Diego or whatever future convention you might attend. However, if you’re like me and (1) don’t want to deal with the hassle of elaborate cosplay that might require midday maintenance, (2) prefer to spend as little as possible, and (3) like to pack light so you’re not carrying a bunch of weight when you’re standing in line for six hours in triple-degree weather (it could happen), this article is for you. Let me tell you the basic items to carry that you won’t want to miss but that won’t weigh you down so much that you can’t swim upstream across the exhibit floor.
Outside the Backpack
DON’T FORGET YOUR BADGE! If you’re just there for the off-sites, then feel free to say, “WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING BADGES!” But carry some form of I.D. just because that’s a good idea.
Also, carry a little cash. As we’ve said before on the podcast, vendors will sometimes cut deals for people who can pay in cash, especially on Sunday when everyone is trying to get packed up and sell all they can before they shut down. Be sensible with where you carry it, and don’t carry too much, but $50-100 can be helpful depending on your budget. Cash can also be a great way to stick to that budget. If you carry a certain amount and force yourself to only use cash for the day, you’ll keep track of exactly how much you spend and can stop yourself from going overboard.
Remember too that the San Diego sun is bright, so you’ll want to wear a pair of sunglasses. Actually, the sun drives a lot of the things I’m going to suggest you pack, so let’s begin with some important health considerations.
Your most basic physical need is water. I know, technically oxygen is a more basic need, but since Comic-Con is in San Diego and not outer space (give it time), you can get plenty of that without packing your own supply. When it comes to water, however, most people don’t drink enough, and that can lead to a lot of problems.
Most folks pack bottles or canteens, which aren’t a bad idea, but I prefer a Camelbak-style backpack like the one pictured here. For one, it holds more than your average bottle (which I can down in about 6.8 seconds on a hot day), and for another, it’s easy to carry. I like putting my stuff in a backpack anyway, and when I want a drink, I don’t even have to rummage for my container. The little tube is right there, inches from my face!
You can decent backpacks like mine from most sporting goods stores. The best have a few pockets for carrying other items and are on the small side compared to a lot of backpacks, which makes them convenient for carrying in crowded places like convention center hallways. Just make sure you test yours out beforehand. The one I bought had a faulty bladder that didn’t hold water (“You had one job!”), so I replaced it with one from an actual Camelbak-brand pack. It was a pain at the time, but now it’s one of the most useful things I own.
That’s kind of a funny word to use in this context. Let’s face it; at a convention, you’re probably not thinking about your macro count or making sure you get all of Oprah’s five colors. But you gotta eat. And those burgers and hot dogs in the Convention Center are frackin’ expensive.
I can recommend a couple of options to help save your wallet from jacked-up prices—and your friends from your hangry side.
One good option is an MRE. For those unfamiliar with the term, that stands for “meal, ready-to-eat,” and it’s kind of like a Lunchable that grew up and joined the Army. I’ve stocked up on a few of these from my Reserve training, but you can also get them from surplus stores or various online outlets. The great thing about them is that for a cost of about $11-12 maximum, you have a full meal on hand in a compact pouch that will last for basically ages and will get a crap-ton of calories into your body quickly. The downside of that, of course, is that, well, it gets a crap-ton of calories into your body quickly, and that can be a problem if you’re watching what you eat. If you’re not a big eater or want to be careful about how much you consume, it’s easy to save half of it for later. But sometimes with all the walking and standing in the heat that you’re doing, you actually need the energy. Besides, they are literally military-grade, designed by nutritionists to help soldiers have a quick, portable, balanced meal on the go, and they’re a lot healthier than most of the meal options available at conventions.
Another good idea is to make a run to a grocery store before you get into town and stock up on easy-to-carry snack items. Things like Clif bars, Slim Jims, or little packs of peanuts are good to have handy. Just remember a couple of tips: For one, you want things that can survive being in your backpack in the heat, so it’s wise to avoid smushable fruits like strawberries and bananas; second, you want some variety and balance. Dried fruit or carrot sticks can help you feel better about yourself, and you’ll probably also want something salty like peanuts or pretzels to help with your electrolytes.
A few little snacks like this can make all the difference. Just try to plan how many you’ll need for each day, and pack extra at your discretion. You don’t want to be stuck without food when you’re hungry, or with carrying a ton of extra goodies you won’t eat.
You’re going to get sweaty. That’s a fact we all just have to accept. You might want to carry a little travel stick of deodorant, but in a crowd like you’re about to enter, you’ll have to accept that everyone’s going to get a little sweaty. Still, if it helps you feel better, it’s probably worth the tiny amount of room it’ll take in your bag.
What’s more important to me is something to clean up a little with. I like to have a small bottle of hand sanitizer and/or a few wet wipes (at least one of which is included in every MRE, another reason I like them). Either of these helps for cleaning your hands after you use one of those public restrooms downtown, and moist towelettes are great for wiping your face and feeling a little fresher after hours out in the heat or camping out in the Hall H line. You can find travel packs of wipes or miniature bottles of sanitizer all over for cheap, and they’re well worth having.
Also, carry a small pack of tissues. If you have any allergies, something will trigger them at the worst time. You also never know when you’ll burst into tears because a writer tells a touching story about where an idea came from or a fan’s cosplay is just so beautiful, and you’ll want to have them when you do. Then again, maybe you’re like me and just sneeze whenever you walk out into bright sunlight. They’re just good to have.
I won’t dwell long on this one, but remember that it gets HOT out there. You could be standing in line for several hours with no shade, so you’ll want some SPF 30 or higher. You can get a small travel tube of sunscreen that’ll last for a day or two (I recommend at least two of these for the length of the con), but even if all you can find or all you want to pay for is a full bottle, it’s worth having.
Also, I like to carry a small tube of Chapstick. You never know how bad the weather will hit you until you’re there, and chapped lips are one unpleasantness you can take care of easily if you’re prepared.
Because some of us have other issues to deal with, it’s a good idea to pack a small bottle of ibuprofen, as well as an antihistamine if you think you might need it.
If, like me, you wear contact lenses, either pack a travel-size bottle of contact solution or save space by carrying a case with enough solution in it to take your lenses out, then have your glasses handy as a backup.
You made it to Comic-Con. Of course you want to share your experience with all your followers on social media and make them wish they could be there with you! Even if you don’t, you’ll want to take pictures of everything and capture this weekend forever! Your smartphone battery is going to go FAST, so take steps to restore it. I prefer to carry both a wall charger and a portable charger because there are occasional outlets available, but you also never know when you’ll get low and there will be nowhere around to plug in. My favorite kind of portable charger is one that’s good for several full charges but also has a solar panel so you can top it up outside. Now, these typically won’t get to 100% from the sun alone, so you’ll have to plug it in the night before, but the sun can add a little juice so that the battery lasts longer. If you’re standing in line out in the sun anyway, you might as well channel that power!
Speaking of standing in line, there are a number of ways to help pass the time that don’t have to take up much space in your pack. It’s easy to add a game like Heads Up to your phone, but if you want to save your battery, carry a deck of playing cards or one of those miniature magnetic checkers games. It’ll make that wait go by ten times faster, plus it’s a chance to make some friends. That’s what conventions are about anyway, right? Coming together? Be that guy or gal who makes waiting in line fun for everyone!
There you have it. That’s what’s in my backpack for a day of good old nonstop geekery. Now get out there and enjoy your con without starving or getting heatstroke! And of course, if you have anything to add, please share it in the comments!